There’s a nice Q&A with Former Assistant Education Secretary Diane Ravitch over on Ohio’s NPR StateImpact website.  Ravitch was in Cleveland discussing school reform last week when she sat down for the interview.  Ravitch used to be a major proponent of charter schools before personally discovering that they did not work in practice.  Since then she has become an outspoken critic of these attacks on the public education system.  As a said, it’s a nice piece and I recommend following Diane Ravitch’s work if you don’t do so already.

But at the end of the interview there was something disturbing.  Like most online media the StateImpact website has a place for comments.  And like most message boards about controversial topics this one picked up a troll.  Well, sort of.  In my experience, comment trolls don’t provide their name (like on our site).  On the Diane Ravitch interview, however, the troll not only left his name, but he proudly signed it.

Bill Sims, Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools

Here’s what the President and CEO of the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools had to say (points for creativity):

Diane Ravitch: “Well the biggest problem facing Ohio is that in your big 8 districts you’ve got tremendous poverty and the single biggest cause of low academic performance is poverty, and if you do nothing about poverty you’re not going to change the performance levels.
Bill Sims: “Interesting, Diane, this is exactly where charter schools have been confined to, by law, in Ohio. And you say that “you’re not going to change the performance levels” because of the poverty levels in these areas. Bunk. Yes, charters in Ohio have this burden of locale but guess what, in terms of yearly student gains, charters within these big 8 district locales have outperformed their district counterparts for the past four years.”
Diane Ravitch: “I discovered either that they (charters) didn’t work or that they didn’t make any difference.”
Bill Sims: “Hooey. Ohio has proven that charters do make a difference, taking children who have failed in their district schools, grade levels behind, and realizing improved academic performance, often in smaller, safer, more personalized environments. And these alternative environments can be niche schools that are better fits for kids than generic classrooms. Sweeping generalizations, Diane, are not befitting educational gurus who theoretically base their conclusions on facts, not allowing their opinions to become facts. What you say about Ohio charters is simply not true.

–Bill Sims
Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools


Why would the president and CEO of a statewide charter school organization fib on the data? Ohio’s charter school performance rankings are easily fact-checked and have been written about extensively in our state. Few people dispute that our large urban 8 districts not only struggle with poverty, but also need to increase the ability of students to score higher on the state’s standardized tests. And even Battelle for Kids, the non-profit entity credited with bringing value-added data to Ohio, readily distributes graphs that demonstrate the direct correlation between poverty and Performance Index scores in Ohio.

But the claim that “charters within these big 8 district locales have outperformed their district counterparts for the past four years” is ludicrous. A look at value-added scores by district (and charters within those districts) reveals that 76 of the charter don’t even report value-added scores because the results are limited to tested grades. And while some charters DO have good value-added scores, a ranking that includes the Big 8 districts and all of their charter schools places the Cincinnati City School district with the 4th-highest value-added score overall, higher than 162 of the 165 charter schools with scores in these districts that actually report scores.

As for the overall Performance Index rankings, it is again disingenuous to say that charters are outperforming their district counterparts. A few charters exhibit high test scores, but the overall district scores still rank higher in 6 out of the Big 8 districts. Here are the average Performance Index Scores for charters in the corresponding county of the Big 8 districts:

Cuyahoga County Charters – 80.0
Cleveland Municipal – 75.7

Franklin County Charters – 77.2
Columbus City – 81.6

Hamilton County Charters – 73.3
Cincinnati City – 87.3

Lucas County Charters – 78.6
Toledo City – 83.1

Mahoning County Charters – 69.1
Youngstown City – 73.7

Montgomery County Charters – 76.8
Dayton City – 75.9

Stark County Charters – 66.1
Canton City – 84.0

Summit County Charters – 75.7
Akron City – 84.5

When digging deeper into these numbers, the largest gap in scores, in Cleveland, can be found to be a result of a few higher-performing charters pulling up the average to compensate for a large number of very low performing charters.  If we average these scores across all charters and districts results we obtain a higher average PI score for the Big 8 than for the collective charters.

But perhaps looking at student test scores isn’t the best indicator of performance. Maybe we should be looking at the bigger picture our school systems. After all, a large number of those charter schools that don’t have value-added scores exist as “dropout recovery” schools whose sole purpose is to help students graduate. So how are these laser-focused charters performing compared to the large urban districts?

Charter schools – 45.1% graduation rate
Big 8 Urban districts – 77.6% graduation rate

Those numbers are facts.

That’s not what anyone should call “outperforming” in my opinion.

It seems Bill Sims, President and CEO of the Ohio Alliance of Public Charter Schools, is one who has failed to follow his own advice and allowed his opinions to become his facts.